MINNEAPOLIS — Growing the game has been an oft-stated goal of Glen Andresen during the eight years he has spent running Minnesota Hockey, the governing body for youth and amateur hockey in the state. Part of that goal has been a concerted effort to get more on-ice representation from non-traditional communities at the rinks.
About a year ago, Andresen convened a focus group with a number of hockey players and families from different racial and ethnic backgrounds to talk about their experiences in the game. In retrospect, he sees the conversation as a wake-up call.
“It became quickly apparent that I was pretty naive in my thinking,” Andresen said. “While each person in that group had great things to say about hockey and they loved the sport, all of them had experienced racism during their time in hockey.”
In the wake of George Floyd’s death in late May in Minneapolis, and the ensuing unrest over matters of race here and nation-wide, Minnesota Hockey took an opportunity on Monday, July 13, to convene a Zoom call on race and equity in hockey. More than 50 participants joined in a frank and open discussion about hockey players of color and how to work toward more positive experiences for them on the team, in the locker room and on the ice.
“We’ll be spinning our wheels if we keep trying to invite these families into the game, if all they know about hockey is that they’re going to experience racism if they’re a part of (hockey),” Andresen said. “We need to do a better job of creating a better environment before we start welcoming players to it.”
Minnesota Hockey officials stressed that the two-hour call was not recorded, in an effort to foster a more open dialogue. They heard the good and the bad. One hockey mom in northern Minnesota told of the trauma an adopted child still feels years after hearing racial slurs during a game. A Mexican-American player in the metro area was asked, “Aren’t you a little dark to be playing hockey?” at a practice. They also heard from a suburban high school coach working to have a hockey program reflective of the growing diversity in his community.
When Pete Schultz graduated from South St. Paul in 1994, the student body at the high school that produced hockey legends like Doug Woog and Phil Housley was more than 90 percent white. Today that number is closer to 60 percent, with a vibrant and growing Hispanic community there.
Schultz is now the Packers’ head boys’ hockey coach, as well as running drills with squirts and peewees, as he was doing Tuesday morning at Doug Woog Arena. He is involved in efforts to get more kids of color on the ice and working to ensure they feel welcome.
“My staff is a diverse staff, with two brothers who are Latino, and we try to look the way our community does in that sense. I’m happy and proud to have those guys on my staff,” Schultz said. “And as a teacher in the high school, we have tough conversations daily…in a school with kids that were deeply affected by what’s taken place in the last few months.”
Stephanie Jackson, who has been on the job as USA Hockey’s director of diversity and inclusion for a little more than a year, acknowledged that these conversations make people uncomfortable, and the growing diversity in hockey is not universally welcomed. She also said that the first step toward equity and inclusion is to acknowledge that Minnesota is changing and transforming and that is reflected everywhere, including community hockey rinks.
“Sometimes when things are going on and maybe they are uncomfortable or unsavory and it’s creating a lot of anxiety, it’s just common human behavior to say, ‘I’m not going to think about that, I’m not going to talk about that, it will just go away,’” Jackson said.
Included in the discussion was a review of the system Minnesota Hockey has in place for parents to report and follow up when there are insults, slurs and other negative actions directed at players. The call concluded after two hours, but not before everyone who responded to a poll pledged amid all of the conversation to be involved in more concrete efforts toward making sure the rink is a welcoming place for all going forward.
“This is an important topic that requires a lot of hard conversations,” Andresen said. “It also requires those of us at Minnesota Hockey to truly look at what we can do better, and take action on it.”